Ethiopia: King Solomon The Queen Of Sheba And The Black Jews — Part 2

Ethiopian black Jews making aliyah or ascent or going up to the Land of Israel
Ethiopian black Jews making aliyah or 'ascent' or 'going up' to the Land of Israel

In Part 1 we tell the little known story, with roots that reach back to the time of Abraham, of the union of the great King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.

In Part 2 a promise is fulfilled. They are welcomed by the Jewish state, like prodigal sons returning to the land of Israel.

The first modern contact with the Ethiopian Jews was by Scottish explorer James Bruce, who was searching for the source of the Nile River.

Early one morning in the late 1940s, an elderly Ethiopian Jew stood with his young grandson at the top of a small mountain, waiting for sunrise. As the sun broke over the horizon, the old man, pointing toward the sun, said, “Remember, this is the way to Jerusalem.”
Shmarya Scott Rosenberg

When Bruce came upon the ancient Jewish community of Ethiopia at Gonder In 1769, many had the sign of the crucifix tattooed on their foreheads to signify their link, as messianic Jews, to Christianity. The Beta Israel population at that time was estimated to be about 100,000 souls.

With the end of World War II, the Jewish homeland, the State of Israel, was established in 1948. Then began the aliyah or “ascent” or “going up” — the Israeli law of return — of many of the Jewish communities spread all throughout the world including that of the ancient Jewish community of Ethiopia. In the case of Ethiopia this aliyah continued, sometimes a trickle and at others a flood, for over 60 years. With the secret Operation Moses in 1984 and Operation Solomon, in May of 1991, the total number of Ethiopian black Jews welcomed to Israel as family finally reached significant numbers.

Rishon LTzion HaRav Chief Rabbi Shlomo Moshe Amar
Rishon L'Tzion HaRav Chief Rabbi Shlomo Moshe Amar as Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, went to Ethiopia to meet with the Falash Mura community and subsequently recommended that they undergo conversion to revert to Judaism -- Source: Havel's House of History

By June 2011, including a last group of over 8,000 Falash Mura who were identified as the Ethiopian Jews who would be able to make one final aliyah to come to the land of Israel under the ancient Law of Return, the total stood at nearly 80000.

Not all of it has gone as smoothly as it might have. According to Beth Frank-Backman writing for the website Jacob’s Bones

“White turbaned kess or priests are the traditional leaders of Israel’s Ethiopian community, but if Israel’s rabbinut has its way then they will disappear along with the customs they have preserved for centuries. According to Israel HaYom and a widely syndicated story, the rabbinut wants to put an end to the Ethiopian priesthood.”

This problem is said to be due to the geographically remote location and the historical isolation of the Ethiopian black Jews from the Jewish establishment. Beth Frank-Backman says:

“Over time Jews from Palestine spread out along trade routes on both sides of the Mediterranean, in both North Africa and Europe. However none of these trade routes went through the home lands of Ethiopian Jews and there was minimal contact between the two Jewish communities.”

Ethiopian Jews religious leaders are Priests rather the more traditional Rabi counterpart. The Priests use a different kosher slaughtering method to the traditional European and North African ritual. The ancient language of Ge’ez is their language of prayer. The Hebrew Bible or tenach, is called the Orit and is also in Ge’ez.

Newlyweds pose
Newlyweds pose for photographs after their wedding ceremony at a park in central Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia -- Image: Xinhua

There are many other differences including the wedding ritual and for example the feast of Rosh HaShanna. To the Ethiopian Jews their versions embody a tradition of more than 2,500 years standing and they are not in a hurry to change.

Sources: Jewish Virtual Library; Struggle To Save Ethiopian Jewery; FailedMessiah.com; The Jewish Daily Forward; Havel’s House of History

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